Poe’s “The Oval Portrait” and Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” are good examples of the arrogant belief that man’s scientific knowledge and
ingenuity or artistic skill and passion could surpass nature and provide perfection. This includes the notion that woman is flawed by nature and that man can make improvements.In both stories the heroines demonstrate marital obedience and devotion. They both allow themselves to be incarcerated, willingly submitting to actions which lead to their death.
The authors differ however, in the way that they present their heroines. Hawthorne portrays his heroines with individual character traits. . In “The Birthmark” he presents a powerful, self sacrificing and devoted female character in Georgina who tries to use her intellect to share Aylmer’s studies. When her efforts are scorned and do not bring her closer to her husband.(1) she sacrifices herself knowingly out of devotion in spite of her misgivings. Even as she dies she absolves him of guilt.
In contrast, Poe’s heroine is unnamed and has her story told by the narrator. We are told only that she is beautiful and “all lights and smiles “(2). And that she hates “the Art which was her rival”. Unlike Hawthorne’s Georgina, she is ignored by her husband. She is given no voice, we are just told that “she smiled on and still on, uncomplainingly,… grew daily more dispirited and weak.”(3)
n both stories the women suffer from the obsessions of their husbands and are abused and die as a result. However , Hawthorne shifts the point of view to that of the woman, showing how things look from her perspective. In contrast, Poe ‘s woman is passive, like a statue and we know nothing of her thoughts. Poe seems unable to articulate a female view. As Poe himself put it:“The death then of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world”(4) While Hawthorne at least allows the woman to to make some comment on her fate, acknowledging that .“It is not unusual for the love of science to rival the love of a woman in its depth and absorbing energy” (5)
1 “unable to find the perfect future in the present”. (Hawthorne p267)
2 “I feel myself fully competent…my triumph when I shall have corrected what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work” (Hawthorne p85)
3 “unable to find the perfect future in the present”. (Hawthorne p267)
4 “I feel myself fully competent…my triumph when I shall have corrected what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work” (Hawthorne p85)
5.Poe, The Philosophy of Composition